Kenya foreign minister quits over embassy scandal

AP News
Posted: Oct 27, 2010 11:13 AM
Kenya foreign minister quits over embassy scandal

Kenya's foreign minister said Wednesday he is resigning to allow investigations into allegations of a multimillion dollar scandal involving five Kenyan embassies in Africa, Europe and Asia.

Moses Wetangula's announcement came less than an hour before parliament was to continue debate on a committee report that investigated the sale or purchase of Kenyan embassies, land and other property in Belgium, Egypt, Japan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The committee said Wetangula deliberately misinformed them about the transactions and called for him to step aside. The report's most serious allegation is that Kenya paid too much money for land to build a new embassy in Tokyo. It claims Kenya lost more than 1.1 billion shillings ($14.2 million) in the transaction.

"I want to tell Kenyans with a clear conscience that this afternoon I have made the personal decision to step aside from my responsibility and appointment as minister of foreign affairs," Wetangula said in a televised statement shortly after his most senior bureaucrat resigned.

During Tuesday's debate on the committee report, Wetangula denied any personal wrongdoing in the incident. But he acknowledged that the report contained information he was not aware of, including allegations that embassy officials in Tokyo withdrew hundreds of millions of Japanese yen in cash to pay for the land, something that is unusual in government transactions.

"I cannot and I will not condone any malpractices, condone any corruption. I will be the first to fire the first shot," Wetangula said.

An ally of Wetangula moved a motion Tuesday to have parliament delete the sections of the report that claimed Wetangula misinformed them and should resign, arguing, like Wetangula had done earlier, that the minister had no hand in the transactions.

"The long and short of this is the minister does not participate in transactions," Wetangula said Tuesday. "The minister does not procure, the minister does not sign checks."

Later parliament adopted the report without amending it. On Tuesday, backbenchers had been hostile during the debate. But once news of the resignations filtered through on Wednesday, the mood changed. Lawmakers were more conciliatory and government members were no longer defensive _ Prime Minister Raila Odinga and some Cabinet ministers speaking in support of the report.

The report's recommendations are not binding on the government. But the government's anti-graft agency has already begun its own investigation into the affair.

Corruption is a common foe in Kenya. The country ranked 154 out of 178 nations on a corruption index released by Transparency International this week.